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African Renaissance

Vincent van Gogh: The Other. Now we will both drown in agony, despair and ecstasy

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Now he belongs to the elite.

Like a photo workshop, even the trying decline of the citizenship (belonging to the working and lower middle classes) of stigma and the super-rise of discrimination amongst the mentally ill has myths and attitudes. It has become kind of like an occupational hazard that swings black veins here to know and understand this ‘captive-apartheid’ (separate but equal mentality, this psyche) of what it is like to be mentally ill, to be hospitalised, institutionalised on a long-term basis, the conflict in the home that leads to isolation, withdrawal from the community and broader society of the ‘victim’. In the discontent, in anger and agony, there will be violence and assault against the mentally ill that is never spoken about. There will never be an apology. The arrogant and thoughtless perpetrators from all quarters would think that with time memories of the past injustices and brutality will fade like a season. That the mentally ill sufferer would forget the pain of the mental cruelty of the emotional abuser. I think that we are all victims. All artists become victims. The dysfunctional household, the nuclear family hanging on by a thread becomes anti-powerful, antisocial, and rather than address these questionable and brutal actions, this avalanche of sin against the creative-minded and imaginative bipolar sufferer, or, the mentally ill sufferer who has an artistic temperament the result can lead to the dynamic of social alienation from society. The artist may be seen as a deteriorating misfit and living in declining living standards. Having a low sense of self-worth, no identity to speak of, or, frequently in the mode of identity crisis.

Frequenting brothels, becoming hypersexualised, or, befriending people living on the fringes of society. Cast out of society, Vincent called upon interlopers like himself, marginalised, disadvantaged due to poverty, neglect, and abandonment, and the liberties of discrimination. I have spoken about the spoiled identity before. I am more moved now to write about how the socialisation of discrimination against the mentally ill sufferer came about, than press-ganged stigma. There is a different mode of operandi for both. Like the Dutch painter, I tried to outrun the dawn, befriend the working class, those living and working in poverty, those gone in a drink, but the world has become a sticky place. Vincent held up a paintbrush and it became an alpha and omega talisman in his hands. He never sold a painting in his lifetime, had experienced unrequited love in his life, lived in abject poverty, befriended and even painted his circle of confidantes, prostitutes. He painted the wilderness in a chair, he painted the bone-filled face of the moon, he painted portraits in which he portrayed both the androgynous effect of the mind and the male and female landscape there, he painted self-portraits displaying his nature, his a-typical personality for the entire world to see, and he painted sunflowers. He engineered grasses, torment (even in the stars), the genius in the mundane, the banal. Even in the mediocre he found light and improvised comfort for himself in that light as if it belonged to the arena of God. He found the heart and the liver in the shadow of the destitute weeping over the figure of Christ, and for me, there’s a vague anguish attached to the scale of the page.

I think that when Vincent was painting himself, these complex pictures were so layered with subtext, so conceptual, yet, the broken link was there all along. The psychology of it all. And in extremes magical, in bursts of creative thought with an almost unreal substance sticking to it as if mentally he was getting rid of things that had robbed him of life. Marriage, children, ‘the’ career and a loving wife. When I look at the depressed views of himself, the imaginative portraiture, of course, of course I see myself. I see my own writing. I see myself as a poet, second and novelist, first in this phase of my writing career. Not confident in his talent, or, sure, is this a gift. His work was not ‘art’ in a commercial sensibility that would see him gaining financial security from his monumentally gifted work in his lifetime.Vincent’s nightmares like mine must have been intense and terrifying. I journal, Vincent painted. I didn’t handle my nervous breakdown every well, and subsequent nervous breakdowns, and hospitalisations. Stress, burnt out, depression and mania. Both common in the artistic temperament as well as female poets suffering from the Sylvia Plath Effect. He knew the business of internalising emptiness, the nonconcrete, turning it into the uninvolved non-event of the morose state of affairs of both affective pressure and fatalistic depression. I concentrate on the good things.He was a Renaissance-wolf. Hanging on by a phantom thread (as is due to artists who are mentally ill).He knew the voracious destructive pain of being rejected, that matters of the heart have two definitions.To be loved in return, or, to remain single, unloved.

And have many love affairs always trying to make up for the one that you lost to another. He plugged the gaps with the divine, albeit psychological art. In a South African, African context, the artist should be an enfranchised individual. It is important to realise that not just as newspaper gospel, but as a universal challenge, and as truth. The climate of freedom comes to the enfranchised. A kind of innermost peace in the lonely nights. Where did the origins of Vincent’s art, his utter focus, the language of his concentration, the fact that he was so prolific, as hardworking as spit come from, from childhood, or, from a psychiatric disorder? I have struggled with this realisation for most of my adult life. What does every bold incident of trauma inspire in the ‘disaster’ artist? The sunflowers of the creative spark, or, the madness life in the very ill.In the end, ultimately Vincent was the winner. He was the heir to whom the voice of God belonged to in his own time. I see his work speaking to me as diagrammatic. As a photo ark speaking in hundreds of tongues.What is writing, writing for pleasure, what exactly does that mean? What is painting, where is the voice in the painting, to whom does that voice belong? To me, truth resides in the forms of succession (what is the reward for the artist, what is the hereafter and the aftermath). By design the boiling kettleof the psyche brings to life the work, the vision, the art. Where dawn meets nightfall, the music of the hours, the silence by the beach with sand, the knot on the counter top, the muted television, the lost television remote, posterity and legacy, immortality and the mortal; the intellect is the master.

I think ofthe light in the fridge. How for me it can sometimes illuminate, radiate, light up the entire phenomenological plan of the order of this planet, of what I am writing, but the question begs, does the artist have an ego, is it unfulfilled, is it more mythic embryo than the odyssey in the womb. What is talent, that seems to come so naturally for the chosen, or, plays out as dubious and unnatural for the audience. Can the negative, can depression fuel, and nurture art?There is both affected dark in that supremacy, and light.

And of damage, of the photograph album of the soul rising to the surface; art too can heal, and can be a blessing. Yes, yes, the misfit can heal, and can be a blessing. We need not only look at Vincent van Gogh as a Dutch painter who never sold a painting in his lifetime, we can look to Africa’s nonconformist artists (Dambudzo Marechera, Richard Rive for example), and we can look to the universality of the world. Look upon the broken link to find the livid owl. Look upon the psychological education of the artist from childhood to death.

Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominated shortlisted and longlisted poet Abigail George is a recipient of four writing grants from the National Arts Council, the Centre for Book and ECPACC. She briefly studied film, writes for The Poet, is an editor at MMAP and Contributing Writer at African Writer. She is a blogger, essayist, writer of several short stories, novellas and has ventured out to write for film with two projects in development . She was recently interviewed for Sentinel, and the BBC.

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African Renaissance

Thoughts From the Frontline

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Photo: Keenan Constance/Unsplash

“Hip/Hop, Trap. I would describe my music as different, unique, compared to what I hear in the music industry in South Africa. It is a different sound of genre based on hip hop. In my downtime I listen to artists like Mexikodro, Playboi Carti, Diego Money, Pyrex Whippa, Lil Gotit and Sahbabii. In my life my family has been and still is a major influence, I just want to see them happy and stress free. I want to be successful so that they can spend the rest of lives living comfortably. I chose music because I believe that it is something I’m good at. I wouldn’t call myself a musical genius, or say that I’m talented musically because I’m not but, I have taken the time to learn everything that I know today, I started as a rapper, but now I am a producer as well, a very good one if I should say, I mix and master vocals, well I try to. It is still something I am learning on a daily basis and I believe that one day if not soon, I will understand that aspect of music. The guys who I record with are so gifted at what they do, we really inspire each other to take it to the next level. I would be lying if I said that I inspire myself, well maybe I do, I don’t know, however what I do know is that we can go to the next level together because nowadays you rarely see a duo or a group of rappers in the South African music industry, there are 4 of us in our group including others who aren’t full time as yet, I think that makes the odds better for us to take it to the next level as opposed to being a solo” SUPREME ZEE, CEO OF Holidae Don’t Stop!

“What inspires me to take it to the next level is basically my daughter, Family and my everyday experiences growing up and living in Westbury losing friends and family to gang violence had a huge effect on me since a young age I’ve been through hell and back if I may describe in short and I’ve realized, to make it out you really need to dig deep. This is also one of the main reasons why I started writing music. I love Music, it is my passion that is mainly why I chose to make music, ever since a young age I’ve just been through the worst writing music and articulating every word I write is therapeutic. Manifesting and having faith in God has carried me through. Major influences in my life remains God, my baby girl, my family and obviously my Team Holidae Dont Stop! We always encourage one another to do our best we definitely do bring out the best in each other and I’d say the beats that supreme Zee creates brings out the best in me personally and it’s also one of the major influences in my music career it’s only elevated since the moment we started. In my down time I listen to All types of music mostly Gospel & HDS. I would describe my music as being one in a million very versatile, real and unusually different from the usual and it has an unorthodox flow and style to it so you can literally expect only the best” TheGR8ACE, CEO and co-founder of Holidae Dont Stop!

My inspiration comes from knowing that I have a God given talent and my friends (HDS) and family that motivates me day to day to do better. I chose music because as a hobby it is something I love doing which started out in high school where I had friends that used to rap over beats and I’d just stand within the circle and listen to their rhymes and it became to amuse me when I found out that there are people in my community creating their own music, whereas in 2019, I linked with the crew Holidae Dont Stop! and it has been a wonderful journey ever since! Learning and growing at the same time. My mother has played a role as one of my biggest inspirations including friends (HDS) have been a major Influence in my life, for they always pushed me to be a better me. Not giving up on me and providing not bad advice but love and positivity. I’ve been in difficult situation in the past and I am just trying to make a better standard of living for my family, my friends as well as my community (Westbury). In my down time I listen to various genres like Rock, Rnb, Hip/Hop, Rap, Emo Rap. I would describe our music as Western Plug for it derives from Hip-hop with an offbeat including 808s and guitar and piano samples that Supreme Zee (Producer) recreates and when hearing the beat, I can automatically put my heart on it.” Bando -recording Artist at Holidae Dont Stop!

 To conclude this, we are all from Johannesburg South Africa as one of our members spread across as far as Cape Town, temporarily. Our member who are not full time are – Leiph Camp (Splaash66) Stock broker, Razaak Benjamin (Glock) Salesman and Marion Reyners (Marion The Great) Facilitator. “Our music is Bold, Iconic and timeless” TheGr8ce. Our crew is based in Jozi (Johannesburg) although we do not have a manager as yet. Our follow up record will sound similar to the “Western Plug tape” that we have recently released, followed by 3 singles. Plug is a genre that derives itself from Hip-Hop and our next single will drop in 2 weeks. The link to our music is on all platforms and the Love and support would be much appreciated. We literally wont stop! –

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African Renaissance

Slavery and the real life bending sinister

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What is slavery? It is nothing more than poverty of the mind. It is not a school of thought or a philosophy. It is scarcity. It is lack. It is cumbersome. It is heavy. It is a burden.

What does it have to do with politics? Ask what it has to do with genocide.

What does it have to do with the power of having a slave mentality? Just as easily as we rise, we fall. A leaf. Ask yourself this. Does the leaf or gravity have the slave mentality or is it just a path to its consciousness, and if it is a meandering path to its consciousness what does that make of gravity? Gravity is easily the culprit or saboteur. A cup carries water but how does the water break through the physical wellness of the body to sate thirst, how does water flow through the universal meridians and find sanctuary in all the wild places that the ocean cannot contain, in code, in which case what observations come out of these natural and bohemian studies.

A slave is a slave is a slave. My grandfather was a slave. My great-grandfather was a slave. On both the paternal and maternal side they are non-existent for me. I live for my father. My father is not a slave. You see his mind is not enslaved. His psyche, his mental, emotional, physical wellness, intellectual prowess and integrity is intact inasmuch as he is not a slave to the peculiarities and eccentricities of the people he finds himself amongst.

In the stages of my own life I can see that I have been enslaved (my mindset and attitude was) by my body image, my identity of cosmic Africa, the cosmos, my self as an African, what I was entitled to, my basic self esteem. I was a slave to my sister, her dalliances, her whiteness, her renouncing Africa for America then Europe and I understood what loneliness, family, friendship and family finally meant and this frightened me a great deal because I realised I had never really loved myself before. I was a slave to every moment up until I heard James Baldwin speak up. I had truly been a slave to waiting for someone to release me and offer me relief somehow from this kind of suffering and cognitive thinking. I wanted happiness but the price for my freedom was this. Somebody else had to love me before I could.

Ask what slavery has cost us as humanity. Look back at history. When I look back at history, all my life I never felt safe. Whether it was the bogeyman, or a horror film, or apartheid, or reading about apartheid, acknowledging it was the difficult part. How would you even begin that dialogue? What could you partner with those hectic images that left you with an urgency and a sense of betrayal from God? So, I grew up with an unpleasant disdain for middle class families in South Africa. It was easy for me to picture them as racist which they were and still are to a certain degree and yet how could I not be? The thought of slavery and decolonization never left me even as a child as I sought to fight for the betterment of society and to right all the evil wrongs.

Slavery is everything. It is primitive. It is visible if you look hard enough. We haven’t even begun to talk about or discuss in rational terms without venting or becoming agitated or irrational about race relations in South Africa or slavery as a concept or narrative in Africa.

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African Renaissance

On watching David Mamet in an African context

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His boots made a squelching sound. In the whorl of her ear a squelching noise on the welcome home mat. The man was quick. The girl was slow. The woman was slow to speak. She was slow to communicate what she was thinking and feeling. The secret part of the actor was valid. Her fear, anxiety and chemistry becoming like the flapping wings of a Bach woman. After the interview came the hurricane. Late morning the man realizes his mistake. The woman remembers her parents’ relationship from childhood. The man remembers how the young woman looked the day he married her. He remembers their courtship and the day they got married. How he squinted at her through the sunlight that fell upon her hair that day at the beach. He had gone fishing. Caught nothing.

He had left her alone to read a magazine on the beach. The town was near decay. It was a tourist destination for the mega rich.  She will think one day (the girl inside of her) that she married the wrong one.  The apparitions come at night. The snow in winter. David Mamet is a mega rich American writer and Republican intellectual. He has made it. Millions won’t. Millions idolize him. Thousands want to be him. They want to live his life for him. They admire him for living so well. There is driftwood on the beach. The chips of wood are like a magnet almost as if they are chipping away something of life at the root heart of humanity. There is always a story to be told from life, from everything. Everyone has a story to tell. The girl sighs with a thousand other girls. Her soul is bitter. She has lost something. She feels she has lost everything because the guy has up and left her stranded with the baby. What is she thinking, what is she feeling? David Mamet is a well-known playwright. In a shining circle the bleak ones live in this world feeling nothing. Existing on the fringes of this life world. They wait in unison for the hereafter. I realize my mistake now. The young girl fell for the wrong guy. The twig sucks me in. The man walks in beauty. Wild geese are calling with a purpose. Music in Africa has its own language.

We are conditioned to think that nothing lasts forever in politics. The only thing that really lasts is a story. It has prophecy and legacy combined. Which one lasts longer? What of our playwrights and our songwriters? It is a summer evening. People are dancing in the street. The smell of barbecue is smoky. She looks at her face as she passes a shop window that is brightly lit up and doesn’t recognize her own face. The wretched and forlorn look upon her face. The young girl smells of bloom ad smoke. She thought she would give it up for Lent. David Mamet is a world-famous director and writer who understands the nature of art and truth when it comes to telling and writing original stories. He started his own theatre company. He married an actress. Conquerors know of miracles. The house has a room that has been standing empty for years. The naming of parts comes with having a range of intelligence, scrutiny, wearing a sorrowful mask, understanding suffering. The woman has a slender body. The actress has a stunning face. The woman has a confession. There is a sharp intake of breath as the man’s fist comes crashing down on the table. You cut your finger with a kitchen knife. Remember, the day you cut your finger with the kitchen knife. Or was it really your fingernail?

The director goes back and forth, back and forth cutting between the tension and the dialogue of the actors. He walks them through their paces. The actors take a well-deserved break. They talk and interact with each other. They smoke and laugh. The girl throughs her head back and sounds silly when she tries to put everyone else at ease when she is not with her own performance. There is some insecurity there. Some self-doubt. They run lines. The gravity of the thing comes into view. We all struggle. Don’t we all, someone in the group says. There are confessions. Then there are more confessions with a trimmed and a manicured nail. I am getting old. I can feel it in my bones. The flesh of my flesh was very tender that day I cut my finger with the kitchen knife. I sliced it like a pear. Prizes make you happy and sad. Here is the ballad of a growing intimacy, a camaraderie amongst the actors in this theatre company. They mill around. No one wants to end the flow of the conversation. They want to work. They don’t want to go home yet. It means sitting at home alone for some. It means a lonely night. The beauty of the dahlias is complicated. Will there be real flowers or plastic fruit on opening night on the table? My sister doesn’t phone to talk to me.

When she does telephone, she speaks to my mother. I wish I was more real than having this kind of a fake personality.  The actress is deciding whether to paint her toenails a fire engine red to stay in character. Pain helps you to grow. If you forsake pain, you also forsake growth. All of us should conquer something in life. Let us go into the wild that is calling. My life has always been on this path.

On the edge of uncertainty. My soul is gone to tell you the truth. It has lost a bit of its own mystery.

When I speak of David Mamet, I think that in the context of Africa that there is the worker Mamet in all of us. Whether it comes to the tradition of oral storytelling or not, the linear arrangement of the goal of the storyline or in the sheltered pose of the actor reading their lines from a script. The past slips out of its calling. Its shell of water. It passes away into nothingness. That means absolutely nothing and everything to me.

I feel it coming. I feel it coming on. Turning me around. This lonely night. Beyond the trees I feel the thaw.

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